The thing is, I don’t really know what I’m doing. They say the Sunnah is a blue print for how to live your life but there’s nothing in there about how to deal with vitriol on social media, how to manage panic attacks, how to not fail your intro philosophy course senior year. Sure, there’s other stuff, like how to be kind, and how to be clean, and how to be a father. But sometimes I feel like it is all so distant from me, so very far away. I think that’s why we cling to modern day heroes. We can’t help but to glorify people. We’ve got to believe that there is someone out there who figured out how to translate 1400 year old words into 21st century life. We need simple instructions. Someone we can model ourselves after. But then, the older you get, the more cynical you let yourself be (or the world forces you to adopt as your framework), the role models fade away. Even your own parents become, well, just people. And that’s terrifying. How can it be that I am treading water in the middle of an ocean of souls all just as lost as me? How can that possibly be fair? How can that make sense?
I spent $3.99 on a rented version of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire today on Netflix. Bold choice, I know. Sometimes nostalgia is the perfect antidote to contemporary numbness. As I watched the children race (to the death!) in a competition that seeks to distinguish those who are exceptionally from the rest, I thought about myself, and my place, and the way I spend my time. Sometimes, I think I too, am in a competition to the end. That this world is a giant labyrinth and the goal is to out pace, out smart, and out soul all the rest. Isn’t that sort of it? Heaven as the winning prize? Hell the terrifying, fear inducing, catalyst to that winning? The scary thing about it is, we have never met someone who we know won. That just isn’t possible. No one can speak to the dead, or know who made it to the pearly golden gates. Even the people we know and love and trust, are just people, who eventually pass away, and we all have to wait until the end to find out who has won and who has lost.
That overwhelms me. The feeling that there is no one to trust, no way of knowing that those who you choose to follow aren’t leading you straight down a path of no return. When we were young, I remember in Islamic School learning about the signs of the day of judgement. They told us, the Dajjal will come and trick everyone except those with true faith, that what is right is wrong and what is wrong is right. I remember thinking to myself, my gosh, who could be so foolish as to mistake right for wrong? Who could be that stupefied by glamour or magic or greed to consciously believe such a thing? Funny how it is when you are a child, the world is so incredibly simple, adults are all worthy of trust, and you just believe and have faith that you will grow up to ace all that will come your way.
Well, here I am, ten years later, and I am effectively, the foolish person I gasped at in my old Arabic classroom. Here I am, in the middle of one of the oldest colonial cities in this huge and vast and pained country, and I have no idea what to make of this world. Every day I wake up just hoping and praying I will have enough common sense or soul-sense, or some semblance of clarity to make it through the long list of choices that will stand before me that day. I don’t know if any of it is right. No one really does. We rely on people, to teach us, to show us, to guide us, and they are, after all, just people. Even our own relationships with God are shaped through the narratives of people. They tell us to prostrate this way and someone else in the world has chosen a different way and I have to closely eyes and pick a team and just pray with every fibre of my being I have got it right.
And that is hard. It is weighty. It leaves you staring at your hands after the day has come to a close and wondering if you even feel in your gut that you re on the right path. That you picked the right side. That you donned the right jersey. I’ve lost friends over the choices I’ve made, the ethics I’ve ascribed to, the people I have chosen to love and trust. That is a hearty cost for all this confusion, for the constantly blurry road ahead (whether by tears or exhaustion I can hardly make out the difference these days). I’ve lost respect over the choices one made, been branded with names and ideas I didn’t really want to have to hold but I guess thats what comes with the game. Is life a game? A horrific, (yet also joy-filled) battle to the finish. A game of wits of heart of… well… luck? Luck that you drew the right cards that you played the right move that you got placed with he right opponent.
I am so grateful for the internet. My gosh! having Yelp to search up the best restaurants in the city changes everything. To be able to call my family from anywhere in the world. To have a GPS on pocket no matter how lost I might be. And this is what I was given instead of a prophet. I think about that often. That had my little soul only emerged into the fold of this life just a couple hundred years earlier, I could have had a prophet. I might not have had to do all this shut eyed-guessing and this late night sobbing and this constantly anxiety that I tug around with me wondering how on earth I am supposed to know I am not already the loser? Who is to say that the Anti-Christ hasn’t already come? Isn’t that the whole point? That we will miss the point? That we won’t catch on until its too late? And how do I explain that, defend that, justify that to my little ten year old self int hat seat, wishful, blindly, believing that I would know enough about truth to be able to post it out anywhere I went? That I would have the courage necessary and the backbone to always pick the right side? What ought I say to her?
I don’t have any answers. Because I have no idea what I’m doing. Sometimes I tell myself, it’s okay you are trying your best, and then I read about heaven and hell and truth and falsehood and the stakes are just far too high for “my best” to cut it. This is just too grave, too serious, too heavy and swollen with reality to chalk the whole thing up to effort.
Yeah, they don’t grade you on effort in university. That’s not how it works. And I think most people here thank god for that each day. Not every A-bearing Summa Cum Laude graduate has hustled here. Some people gently pass through the library like it is a garden of flowers and sit through class like it is a bubble bath and there is not a care in the world. I wasn’t blessed that way. And I think thats why I’m always frightened. Why every misstep feels like I’ve barely jumped a canyon. Why at the end of the day, my parents, are just people. And my teachers, are just people. And the mothers that babysat me when I was young, are just people. And they could all be treading water too. And they might all be wrong. And they could all be just as scared and unsure as me.
People say, oh but there are saints, there are guides! We have them! You just have to find them! And maybe they are right. Maybe I’m just jaded and tired and really really sad. But how can you believe any of them. We don’t have a magic potion to force truth. We don’t have mechanisms that protect against lies, we cannot measure in the physical, in the tangible, someone’s closeness to God. Someone’s state of heart. Someone’s soul-hood from simply a persona they have mastered the performance of. How many people in your life have you once trusted who broke it? How many heroes have we seen fall from grace? How many times were you taught about the signs of the day of judgement, about the very reality that part of this challenged, this task of righteousness, is that all reality will be scrambled up like eggs in a frying pan, and most people will fall for the fickle?
Not sure where to go sometimes. No one gives me answers that satisfy me. They satisfy themselves though. And for that I am grateful. There are few feeling that rival that of comfort. There are few stations that mirror that of clarity.
May Allah grant me even a taste of it someday. I have forgotten what it is like to be free in that way.